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Thread: Getting the most out of using sources

  1. #1
    Bronze Member LiadanWillows's Avatar
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    Getting the most out of using sources

    Being some what of a n00b and doing a lot of research I thought I would bring up the topic of sources.

    How do you know you have a good source of information or a bad one?
    Some signs that will point me to the validity of the information?
    Good sites/books/authors you recommend?

    (sorry this is such a broad subject, but I know it would help me and all the other n00bs too!)
    http://www.paganforum.com/image.php?type=sigpic&userid=87&dateline=133754480  9

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    [quote author=LiadanWillows link=topic=989.msg18164#msg18164 date=1290997430]
    Being some what of a n00b and doing a lot of research I thought I would bring up the topic of sources.

    How do you know you have a good source of information or a bad one?[/quote]

    Well, there are a couple things...and a lot of them are fairly similar to the same way you would tell a good source from a bad source if you were writing a paper or something. All of them have their pros and cons...

    1) Experience...really, nothing beats this. If you are well and widely read, you have a wider well of knowledge to draw upon. The downside, of course, is that to *get* that knowledge and experience, you are still going to have to read some "crap" and sometimes you will make mistakes and get suckered in to an idea that isn't so great. BUT...generally, thats be best way to learn.

    2) Check out reviews. Reviews are not foolproof...but they can (particularly if they are well written) give you some idea as to the general reception of a work, as well as the specific strengths and weaknesses of a work or an author. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, reviews are just someone else's opinion...and there is a saying about opinions being like a**holes, "everybody has one, and most of the time they stink".

    3.) Consider the source...and the subject itself. If you are reading a history of the development of Wicca, I'd dare say that a referenced, peer-reviewed work by a historian is probably the way to go (Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon FTW!)...whereas, you might be more lenient in whom read for something that is more UPG oriented... Also, just because someone is a controversial figure (tries very hard to not point fingers) does not mean that they can't have good ideas (oh, I give up...some of my best "mommy magic" ideas for teaching my kids have come indirectly from Silver Ravenwolf)


    Some signs that will point me to the validity of the information?
    this article has some of the better advice I've seen on the subject

    ...there used to be another article that I would recommend, that I thought was better...but I can't find it anymore

    ETA: This is another good article on the subject, but its still not my fave one


    Good sites/books/authors you recommend?
    Really...that depends on your specific interests. I have tons of sites, authors and books I would recommend, but not without qualifying which topics I would recommend them for. There really is no Encyclopedia of Paganism that I can point you to as the end all, be all reference work.

    Once the semester is over, provided I remember, I will go thru my stuff and find the darn file that was my big giant list of credible websites and books (seriously, its like 4 or 5 pages as a word document on just about ever topic I have ever been halfway interested in).


    ETA: I really like this recommended reading list as a starting point. About a fourth of my reading list overlaps with it, if I remember correctly.

    Also...the book of books... (wait for the used copies to be cheap...I got my (now stolen) copy for like $3.00)
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

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    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

    "We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes--one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way."
    ~~Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

    "Humans are not rational creatures. Now, logic and rationality are very helpful tools, but there’s also a place for embracing our subjectivity and thinking symbolically. Sometimes what our so-called higher thinking can’t or won’t see, our older, more primitive intuition will." John Beckett

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    Cannibal Rights Activist Ophidia's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    You have to think about what audience you're in.

    Are you looking for highly regarded academic resources so you can one-up people in forum debates, or are you looking for something that sings to your heart? Do you want to learn or do you want to teach? Are you a beginner or are you fairly experienced?

    Unlike many scientific subjects, religion is more... subjective. Your desires and goals are going to largely color how you view what you read, hear or experience, and what you get out of a resource may not be what someone else would get out of a resource. Fer instance, I love Ralph Bloom's works on the Norse runes. Ask most other people and they'll tell you his books are crap - and, academically speaking, they are. But I'm not in it for accuracy, I'm in it because it speaks to me.

    With anything else, you have to rely on your internal b.s. meter, too. If someone tells you to go stand on your head in a rainstorm & kiss a frog to find your totem animal, would you do it? If you read in a book to go pick unspecified mushrooms in the dark of the new moon to slip into your intended lover's food, would you trust much else the author had to say?
    The forum member formerly known as perzephone. Or Perze. I've shed a skin.

  4. #4
    lady sings the blues DanieMarie's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    Also, to add, is it current?

    This seems like a no-brainer, but the net has been around long enough that there are articles around from like 2000. While that was only 10 years ago, some things (like business, technology, the economy, science) change much faster than that. So something from 2000 might be crazy outdated. I have a Human Resources Management textbook from 1995 and I'm sometimes really annoyed that that's the one we were prescribed, because in that context 1995 might as well have been 50 years ago and soooooo much has changed since then.

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    Sr. Member Ravenix's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    At uni we can only cite material that is peer-reviewed, meaning that it has been approved by academics; any university or academic site should be good (look for '.ac' or '.edu' in the site address). There should be some academic sites floating around on ancient cultures and such if you're wanting info on a specific people. You can even find archaeological info on gods and such.

    Failing that, any site that is well-written (i.e. nt ritten lyk thiss), has a nice layout and doesn't just lift stuff from Wikipedia should be fine. If you can tell that the owner has invested a lot of time and effort into it, it should be OK.
    Even Wikipedia is very good, I have a few pages on Germanic religion bookmarked; just remember anyone can edit Wikipedia and that from that you can be misinformed.

    Also check out the reviews for books you're intersted in on Amazon; you'll soon see if it's worth reading. And take a look at the other books that Amazon suggests for you, I found a few interesting books that way!
    "The Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence." (Tacitus, `Germania', 9)

  6. #6
    lady sings the blues DanieMarie's Avatar
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    Re: Sources

    [quote author=Ravenix link=topic=989.msg18288#msg18288 date=1291041647]
    At uni we can only cite material that is peer-reviewed, meaning that it has been approved by academics; any university or academic site should be good (look for '.ac' or '.edu' in the site address). There should be some academic sites floating around on ancient cultures and such if you're wanting info on a specific people. You can even find archaeological info on gods and such.

    [/quote]

    That kind of bugs me about uni to be honest. It's not usually like this in business studies, but there's still a strong bias towards academic rather than practitioner content, and to be honest I find that in business, the academic world is a little "behind" the times compared to what's actually going on in real time, so practitioner journals are useful. It's also a bit of an "american" vs "british" uni thing for that in business school. I go to a UK school and they're a bit more into the whole "tradition" of academia. Whereas US business schools (despite the fact that business school existed in the US LONG before it did in the UK) they're more interested in studying a mix of material and learning about how things work in studies combined with how people actually practice business in the real world. Some of my UK courses (like Marketing) are also better for this.

    When it comes to studying religion I'd have trouble with sticking with only academic sources as well. It's such a subjective subject matter that eyewitness accounts and stuff like that can really help understanding (just make sure the source is reliable!)

  7. #7
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Getting the most out of using sources

    First off, apologies for the length of this post. On the old forum I would have posted it as an article. So if the mods feel it is in the wrong place, please do feel free to move it!

    Using Sources
    Since many of us like to use literary sources from time to time, I thought this would be a good place to explain a little about how to get the most out of them. If all we do is to pore over a text without thinking about how, why and when it was written, then we’re often only getting a small part of the whole picture.
    One of the problem we have with each resources is in deciding their value. It's rather like newspapers, some of them have their own hidden agenda. Obviously I can't go through every type of source here on the forum, however I can set out a few pointers which you might find helpful.

    Primary sources are usually ancient ones or at least as close to the original event described as it can possibly get. Sometimes ancient sources drew on even earlier ones that are now lost to us. A good example of this is found in the new Testament with the Gospel of St Luke and the Gospel of St Matthew, which are believed to rely heavily upon an earlier 'Q' source.

    One mistake that people often make is to think that just because the source is old or ancient but it must be accurate. This is not so. Early writers often had their own agenda and if you know what this was it can often help you interpret the text. For example, Tacitus is often quoted in relation to the Germanic tribes and what they believed, and also about Boudicca in British history and the Celts.

    Now firstly what you have to remember about Tacitus is that he wrote in Latin. So most people are going to read him in a translation. That means that his words have already been filtered through a third party so in addition to his own agenda, we might also be dealing with the translator's agenda. It shouldn't happen but occasionally it does.

    The next thing to remember is most writers have an agenda of their own. Why did they write the book/article? What were they really trying to say? We return to Tacitus again because he's a very good example of this and a lot of people have heard of him. Tacitus lived during the reigns of the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan. At heart he was a Republican, he didn't like the idea of having an emperor. Under Domitian, many of the elite had been executed; nobody was prepared to write criticising the emperor or the Empire during his reign. Once Domitian had been assassinated however, writers came out of the woodwork eager to say what a bad emperor he had been. Trajan obviously encouraged this.

    So what you have to remember about Tacitus, is that when he's writing about the 'noble barbarians' in Germania, he is actually holding up their virtues as an example of what Republican virtues used to be before the time of Augustus, the first Emperor. Tacitus was not really interested in Boudicca or the Germans. And he certainly was not writing for them -- they were societies without any written traditions anyway. You could say that he was writing for a Republican Roman audience using a sort of code. He used the barbarians as he saw them, to say things that could not otherwise be expressed openly against the present Roman Empire.

    Another thing about Tacitus. When you use a translation, try and use the most modern one you can find. This isn't always easy but you should at least be aware that some of the old translations are full of errors. You should also consider the purpose of the original text – was it literary, political or religious propaganda, historical? And remember that even with historical writing, the perception of its purpose has changed a lot since ancient time. We talk about Herodotus as the ‘Father of History’ (or the ‘Father of Lies’ depending on your point of view) – but actually his work would have been regarded as history by his original audiences. So would Thucydides.

    Was the work intended to be read or performed? This is important because it will affect the dramatic qualities and also the intended effect of the work. It’s always worth considering anyway.

    The idea of using modern texts is also applies to secondary sources. Even if you find an article or book that you like, you should always try and find another published in the last 15 to 20 years. This will give you a broader perspective.

    Another thing to remember about sources is that they are just that -- a source to be used and interpreted. Interpretation is the key. With enough background information and a good primary source, you can use these to support your theories. Historians do this all the time. And fashions in historical interpretation are subject to change. You only have to see what happen to the reputation of somebody like Margaret Murray for example. Nowadays it is very unfashionable to use her arguments, and she is treated as though she knew nothing at all, however she was the bona fide scholar and had also accompanied Flinders Petrie on his archaeological digs. I'm quite sure that some of today's scholars will receive similar treatment from the scholars of the future.

    Another thing you have to remember is the audience the source was intended for. Public sources -- intended to be read by people unknown to the author -- are quite different from private ones such as diaries and journals. A really private diary such as that written by Pepys who wrote in code, is quite different from a document that was intended to be read by others. You only have to look at the recent wikileaks revelations to realise that what is said and written in private is quite different from things intended to be distributed within the public domain.

    Never be afraid to the open about your sources. If something is worth quoting, then at the very least you need to be able to state where you found them. 'The back of the drawer' does not count. If these papers were archived in say, the local records office, then these all have specific references which you should note down at the time you view them. Otherwise the source is going to be completely useless to you because you cannot share it with anybody else. A source that is hidden -- no matter how good you think it is -- is no source at all.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with stating that you believe something based entirely upon your own personal experiences. Other people may dispute with you of course, but you are perfectly entitled to hold the beliefs that you do. There is no need to prove them to anybody else. What you must not do however is to pretend you have sources that you don’t. Don’t try and give things the appearance of authority by claiming a provenance for them which they do not really possess.

    Anyway, I hope this helps!
    www.thewolfenhowlepress.com


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  8. #8
    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Excellent article, Tylluan! I wish I had students with your perception when I was teaching college prep writing .

    In addition to all you've mentioned, it's also important to note, when using sources, that each author selected some materail to look at, and rejected other material - for one reason or another.

    Sometimes there might be an agenda behind it, other times it's simply a matter of writing a 300 page book instead of a 10,000 page book. And still other times, it's simply a matter of what information is most easily accessible. For example, if you want to learn about ancient Celts, you have archaeological evidence, some artifacts, a few inscriptions, more myths and legends, but the Celts didn't write diaries, so we'll never know what any individual Celt felt about the world in which he/she lived.

    The problems of selective evidence is as true of contemporary writing as it is of historical writing.

    An excellent example of the importance of using the most current sources possible is the "history" of the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union was still Communist, they were very careful to control the information about internal conditions and events they released. However, after it dissolved, the government archives were opened to western scholars, and everything we (in the U.S., at least) thought we knew about Soviet history had to be dramatically revised.
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  9. #9
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    Thank you de Corbin! The extra points you raise are excellent - I wish I'd thought of them!

    I feel it's very important to try to evaluate the actual value of sources before using them - not all are the same, by any means. In history, ordinary people so often lived and died without leaving any trace of what they thought, believed or felt. And just as it's important to understand a source's strength, so it's important to understand its inherent weakness, too.


    Simply saying 'I have a source' isn't enough by any means!
    www.thewolfenhowlepress.com


    Phantom Turnips never die.... they just get stewed occasionally....

  10. #10
    Asch
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    Re: Getting the most out of using sources

    This was such a great read! I read a similar article once regarding online sources for an anthropology course a few years ago. I wish I could find it now. So many well intentioned folks are suckered in by bad research, it's really refreshing to see something like this (I was delighted to see the academic section on this forum as well). Thank you for taking the time to write this up.

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